Eddie Van Halen turned 57 Thursday, but fans of the guitarist and his namesake band have been the ones receiving gifts in musical form all week as the group has continued what has basically turned into an all-out media blitz in anticipation of its first album since 1984 with original singer David Lee Roth, “A Different Kind of Truth,” and the massive North American tour slated to follow.
It’s been such a longtime since Van Halen has had anything other than a tour to promote that it’s surprising to see how well the usage of social media and the Internet has propelled the promotional machine to such a high level. Not many could have expected a band that’s been dormant for so long would impact the charts the way it has, and that the new songs would be the talk of the rock world.
The first single, “Tattoo,” has been added to more than 160 radio stations across the country since its release Jan. 10 and has reached the top of Billboard’s Hard Rock Singles chart.
It was the number-one most played song on classic rock radio in its first week and the top most added song on mainstream and active rock radio stations.
Response to “Tattoo” has been at both ends of the spectrum with some hard-core fans drooling over it and others dismissing it as disappointing.
Then came an extended black and white video interview with Roth where he sat on a stool with the New York skyline behind him and explained the meaning of “Tattoo” and the significance behind the lyrics.
Wednesday, it was announced that a part of “Tattoo” along with a piece of an unheard new song, “Stay Frosty,” could be heard in Wednesday’s episode of “CSI.” That day, out of nowhere, a minute and a half sneak peek at another song, “Blood and Fire,” showed up online.
The reaction was overwhelmingly positive to the track, so much so that by early evening, it was available to purchase online as a download with yet another number, “The Trouble with Never.”
The only problem? You could only purchase the songs in the United Kingdom.
That didn’t stop some enterprising music fans and, um, journalists dying to hear the songs from figuring out a way to bypass the international downloading restrictions. The results were more than worth all the trouble.
“Blood and Fire” is so far the best of the bunch to have come out. It is based off a composition Eddie Van Halen used to score the long forgotten 1984 film “The Wild Life” called “Ripley.”
That piece didn’t have any vocals, but this one does, and Roth hasn’t sounded as solid in a long time. He even drops in a great line where he says, “I told ya I was coming back…say ya missed me…say it like ya mean it!” It’s hard to imagine that being about anything but his long exile from the group.
Musically, “Blood and Fire” sounds like something that would fall somewhere between 1982’s “Diver Down” and 1986’s “5150” — it’s based more on melody and less on fire and bluster.
Somewhere along the way, people may have forgotten that that was just one more direction where the group excelled with Diamond Dave at the helm.
“The Trouble with Never” is the opposite, blasting out of the gate with a guitar and drum attack.
Eddie’s wah-wah pedal sounds like it’s stuck, he has it on for pretty much the duration of the track, which sets it apart from the guitar sound of almost everything else he has recorded.
Nearly forgotten in all of the excitement of the two new songs was the “CSI” episode and what was now going to be a taste of a fourth, “Stay Frosty.”
The minute-and-a-half sample of that track went up late Wednesday, and the comparisons to the Van Halen take on “Ice Cream Man” were instantaneous.
It begins with Roth singing over an acoustic guitar accompaniment, but by the time it ends and the song kicks into a higher gear, the sample ends.
Now, after revealing four out of a planned 13 tracks on the upcoming “A Different Kind of Truth,” in addition to one more having been played at the already legendary small club show in New York City at the beginning of the month, it’s looking more and more like all the waiting for new material is going to be worth it.